ETCS rollout Belgium in 2023

Making ERTMS Baseline updates ‘as easy as updating your smartphone’

Belgium is second to only its tiny neighbour Luxemburg in terms of ETCS rollout. 2023, Infrabel

Since the arrival of ECTS two decades ago, Europe’s rail sector has seen a remarkable shift, with the transformation of signalling systems and the ubiquitous roll-out of digital technology. But despite this many areas still lack suitable ECTS integration and the urgency for deployment grows every day.

One company seeking to change this is The Signalling Company, a Belgian developer of onboard safety software and signalling systems, which is building a new system to reduce ETCS onboard total cost of ownership.

“In a world where software as a Service is becoming widespread, the current policy of ‘freezing the specification’ simply cannot work,” Stanislas Pinte, CEO of The Signalling Company, tells RailTech.

For many existing ECTS systems, the process of upgrading software can involve significant investment but Pinte explains that his firm’s approach aims to make ERTMS Baseline updates “as easy as updating your smartphone, almost invisible to the end-user.”

To achieve this the firm offers fixed-price ERTMS Baseline upgrades in its standard maintenance contract, offering the end-user a warranty for support across all future Baselines.

“The key technology behind such a radical business model change is the ERTMSFormalSpecs (EFS) modelling language, a Domain Specific Language that allows the production of an immediately executable model of the ERTMS specifications, without any intermediary code generation, manual or automated,” Laurent Ferier, the creator of EFS explains. “Such a model-based approach shortens the management of changes made to the system baseline and enables the use of formal methods to accelerate their certifications.”

Dedicated development environment

The Signalling Company’s recent project with Lineas, one of Europe’s largest private rail freight operators, marked a significant achievement for the company, as it is contracted to install 109 Onboard Units (OBUs) in Lineas’ fleet. Demonstrating the firm’s systems at scale, this project will not only enhance the safety and efficiency of Lineas’ locomotives in Belgium but also extend these advantages to the Netherlands and Germany. Furthermore, anticipated First in Class (FiC) authorizations in 2024 and 2025, respectively, underline the company’s commitment to quality and compliance with international rail standards

“By making module physical interface as basic as possible (DIN, Ethernet), and by enabling controlled software changes through a dedicated development environment, not only cost and complexity can be put under control, but obsolescence can be better managed,” Alexandre Betis – CTO of The Signalling Company, said. “We can take the example of GSM-R radio systems, which will be obsolete within the next 7 to 13 years. We will be able to replace the GSM-R interface module by replacing a DIN-mounted module with another one.”

Škoda arrives at the scene

Following the announcement of this project, Czech manufacturer Škoda recently took a majority stake in The Signalling Company acquiring a 93.9-per cent share in the firm in February this year, in order to drive efficiency across the sector.

“With the entry of a large and successful partner into our company, there are further great opportunities for growth in the signalling business. Thanks to Škoda Group’s investment and the connection with such a major European rolling stock manufacturer, we will gain access to the European market,” Pinte, now also Vice President Signalling at Škoda Group, said.

Interested in the work that The Signalling Company carries out? Come and meet them on the exhibition floor of RailTech Belgium 2023 on June 7 in Brussels. The exhibition if free of charge, but you do need to register. Want to learn more about the rail infrastructure sector in Belgium? Sign up for our in-depth conferences that day. 

Author: Nick Augusteijn

Chief Editor,

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